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Complaining at work! Stop it or Quit?

Complaining - we all do it, but do we really need to?

It is not uncommon for us to complain or deal with a complainer in the daily hustle of our workday. In general, we take the expression of our annoyance or dissatisfaction as natural and expected. I can’t count how many times over the years that one of my colleagues or friends would start our chats with “I need to vent!”.

We normally accommodate this ‘venting’ because we see it was a way of allowing ourselves or others to release pent up emotions and openly share their strong opinions or feelings. The thing with venting or complaining though is that the complainer or ‘venter’ is not expressing their emotions or views to the cause or trigger of these emotions. Indeed, they are complaining to you because they cannot or find it difficult to express these emotions to that person. And therein, my dears, lies the problem.

In a recent conversation, where I confessed that I had lately had too many venting episodes and declared that “I’m no longer complaining”; I was challenged with the question as to why and to whom I was complaining. Looking back, my venting was with close colleagues who I trusted or with members of my family. And I was complaining because I felt that my views were not being heard or that those around me just did not see things my way. I am not one to think that I am always right but there are situations where you keep getting the same undesired results but those you are working with are not willing to see things differently or try out new, innovative options to change the situation. So, hamster-style you keep working hard but making no progress.

People complain for such reasons and many more; including insufficient information, issues with workload or prioritization, unrealistic goals or deadlines, difficult colleagues or supervisors and unclear leadership. We also complain because it helps us shift from a negative situation (that is annoying or stressing us) to a positive one (where we feel good because someone is listening to, and many times, agreeing with us). However, while we may have good reasons for complaining and it feels good to vent, it is also true that complainers are generally viewed as ‘difficult’ people. In fact, chronic complainer can be toxic to the work environment.

Now, I personally think that complaining (if not chronic and unfounded) can be channeled as a feedback loop within an organization. I have managed situations where great solutions were birthed from a complainer. However, complaining without proactively addressing the issue can harm our image at work and diverts our efforts from finding a solution. So, it serves us well to be attentive to our complaining tendencies lest we morph into the chronic complainer who everyone avoids. You also want to ensure that you ‘save’ the mental bandwidth and time so you can focus on finding a solution to the triggers of your stress, annoyance or frustration. It is difficult to remain in creative, positive mode while venting and complaining.

The first step you need to take to turn the situation around is to start with framing the problem. Here are some fundamental questions that you can reflect on to devise a way forward. What exactly are your triggers? Is it a person (e.g. how they behave towards you, how they handle situations); or is it a situation? Could it be how you are working as a team? Once you have your answers to these queries, delve deeper and ask: how frequent are the occurrences? How far does the situation or problem impact your performance? Is the person or your colleagues aware of these triggers? Lastly, (and this is a tough one), could you or the way you are seeing the situation/ person be the problem?

As you work through these reflections, kickstart some age-old tactics like counting to 10 to decompress your emotions and help you handle the situation in a less emotive manner. As you exercise such self-management tactics, you can also think about specific steps that you can take to address the situation. For example, if you need to address someone’s behavior, it would be good to play out how you would do that. If it is a situation, explore the specific solutions that you can suggest to your supervisor or colleagues. Once you have the solution, take action.

But as life can be sometimes, it could be that the issue is not resolved even when you take steps to address the situation. In some workplaces, you could face retribution that makes your situation even worse. In such circumstances, you may need to face difficult questions and explore the long-term view of what your options are. The bottom line is whether you can accept the situation as it is; whether you think there is still chance to change it; or, unfortunately, if you should/ can leave. If you can’t accept it and can’t change it, then the only other option is to leave; if you can. Quitting your job is a drastic move, but all things remaining constant – staying in a situation where you are constantly stressed, annoyed and frustrated can be detrimental to your wellbeing.

Times are hard, and you may choose to stay in a bad situation. If you do, then this is the time to reach deep into your internal reserves and find a way to not only accept the situation, but do so with a positive, proactive and helpful manner. We all yearn to work in an accepting and supportive environment. You can’t afford to be a chronic complainer – it is difficult to hug a hedgehog.

Does this resonate with you? Leave us a comment.

I found Peter Bregman’s article very helpful and I am leaving a link below.

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